Thursday, April 21, 2016

In A Public Way

You hear a great deal about the public way. It hasn't as yet been restyled as the citizens' way, but it can surely only be a matter of time. The political new age demands that everything is in the name of the citizen, irrespective of whether a long-established term might carry a degree of legalese. And matters of legality dominate the public way. They are their own invisible obstacles to perambulating citizens. Or alternatively, they are means of liberating this people's space and consigning its defilers to cloistered huddles up against the windows of a bar - or not, as the case may be, and it is the case.

Where is this way, you may well ask. It is to be seen all around. It is walked on, sat on, ran on, biked on. Every street, every prom, the way is public. And this public dimension determines what parts of the public way can be scrutinised by security cameras. The public needs its privacy. 

A conclusion that might be drawn by the very term the public way is that the public in some way owns it. This, despite the fight for the citizens' rights of way being waged by political parties, groups who wish to save this or that, Facebook and campaigns in states of high dudgeon, isn't the case. The public is lent its way. Someone else always owns it. Part of the problem, however, is knowing who. Or what.

Though the public does not have ownership, because of the new age, it does get its say. Hence, there was the citizens' vote to decide the fate of the terraces on Palma's Born. And the citizens duly spake - all some 3.75% of Palma's total population. The public way could be owned by the terraces - right down the middle of the wooded avenue - though of course the terraces (or rather the bar owners) do not own the way. The town hall does. The way, in this instance, belongs to it. In its magnanimity, it has permitted others to borrow it in return for sizable rental income.

Terraces are perhaps the most discussed of public way matters. How much terrace can or should there be? What should the furniture that sits on it look like and be made of? What hours can it be open for? Such questions exercise the minds of town councillors across Mallorca. The terrace, a symbol of summery and less than summery socialising for as long it has been since someone came up with the idea of sticking seats on the public way, creates its own controversies. And because of the legalese associated with the public way, these normally end up in, variously, fines, court appearances and the inevitable "denuncia". One man's public way is most certainly not another's. Or, one man would rather like to get his hands on a part of the public way currently being occupied by another.

This, at least in part, is the background to the social-network frenzy that has turned normally genteel Puerto Pollensa into a public-way fury. An ice-cream kiosk, there from a time when even the most veteran of Puerto Pollensa advocates would find it hard to dredge out reminiscence, is the subject of a public-way takeover. Or so it seems. The only problem is (not the only one in truth) that the cones have been served these past fifty years on what is clearly public way. Only now has it been decreed, for matters of strict legality, that there should be a tender for its occupation. 

Of course, some bright spark might interfere by suggesting that this isn't public way for the town hall to determine. There was, as establishment owners will recall only too unhappily, some confusion as to who got the royalties for letting terraces occupy the public way. Both the town hall and the Costas Authority were, until it was finally realised that it couldn't be both of them.

In Palma, where the public way is debated more than anywhere else, they're now talking about ensuring that every single terrace conforms to standards of furniture design and colour. This has happened elsewhere in valiant attempts to make the public way not appear to be a total mess of competing colours and bad taste parasols. On balance, it's probably reasonable enough, but nonetheless implies that orthodoxy must exist on the public way: any colour so long as it's a shade of beige.

There also needs to be consideration of Europe when it comes to public way matters. Another Palma terrace carry-on, involving moving terraces closer to their respective establishments, has had to take account of EU doctrine for there being a public way corridor by buildings so that the blind have access and can tap the buildings with walking-sticks.

It can all get terribly complicated. But ultimately, how much way does the public actually need? A great deal, it would seem.

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